I'm pleased to be here to present my department's main estimates for fiscal year 2019-20. I'm accompanied today by the acting deputy minister and a number of our senior officials.
For Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada's 2019-20 main estimates, we are seeking a proposed net increase of $832 million over last year, which includes the items announced in budget 2019.
A substantial portion of this increase, $324 million, addresses higher volumes of asylum claimants, and the need to provide practical support to provincial and municipal partners, particularly in the area of temporary housing.
As this committee knows well, the world is currently experiencing a record number of people fleeing violence and persecution. With unprecedented levels of people on the move around the world, our government has taken concrete steps to ensure that we address the challenges in a responsible manner, and that we provide support to vulnerable refugees, while ensuring that the health, safety and security of Canadians is paramount and protected.
Since 2017, our government has been implementing a comprehensive plan to manage irregular migration, while also improving the productivity and management of the asylum system. As part of this plan, we have worked very closely and effectively with provincial partners, and even directly with municipal partners when provincial authorities have been unwilling to collaborate.
The funding in the main estimates builds on the $150 million that has been previously announced. We have committed up to $474 million for sharing interim housing costs incurred by the provinces and/or municipalities to respond to the increased need for housing solutions.
The main estimates also include separate votes for key initiatives announced in budget 2019, totalling $339 million for IRCC in 2019-20. This includes funding to enhance the integrity of Canada's borders and increase the capacity of the asylum system, so that decisions on claims can be rendered faster; improve the services we offer to all our clients, including by hiring additional call centre agents; improve visa processing to ensure that Canada maximizes the benefits of business and tourist visitors who want to come to Canada, while ensuring strong screening procedures, so that the health, safety and security of Canadians is protected; and finally, overhaul the oversight of immigration consultants, including through more investigations and stiffer penalties, so that more vulnerable clients can be protected.
These main estimates, including proposals in budget 2019, allow us to continue to strengthen our immigration system and improve client service. We've made a lot of progress on our commitments. Our government introduced the most ambitious immigration levels in recent Canadian history. This represents a major investment in Canada's current and future prosperity by growing our immigration through a well-managed, multi-year immigration plan.
The plan provides for an increase in the number of immigrants, selected on the basis of their skills and education. This will help our economic growth and address our labour market shortages as well as bring much-needed skills to our country.
To ensure these benefits are felt right across the country, we have successfully piloted the Atlantic immigration program. We have introduced a new rural and northern immigration pilot program, and we have expanded the provincial nominee program numbers to help attract skilled immigrants to smaller communities across our country.
We've also seen a commitment to family reunification by expanding admissions through our parents and grandparents program, the spousal sponsorship program and the caregiver program.
We have also ensured that we have an innovative approach to further improve our processing capacities. I'm proud of the fact that we have reduced wait times and backlogs across almost every line of business in the immigration system. Legacy spousal sponsorship inventory went down from 75,000 cases to less than 2,000.
The live-in caregiver program backlog went down from 62,000 cases to only 1,700 cases. We are processing the federal skilled worker program's express entry system applications in about six months; processing new spousal sponsorship applications within 12 months, down from 26; and processing new caregiver program applications within 12 months.
In addition to this, the global skills strategy is another example of an innovative program that is meeting Canada's economic needs. It helps businesses grow and expand by attracting highly skilled temporary workers into our country. It processes their work permits and visas in only two weeks, down from seven months.
Building on the success of the global talent stream pilot, budget 2019 commits to making this pilot program a permanent program. We've also seen the success of the start-up visa pilot project. We've turned it into a regular program to drive innovation. This program has helped launch nearly 200 start-up companies in Canada in a wide range of industries.
Settlement services are also, of course, key to newcomers' success in Canada. In 2019-20 IRCC will invest more than ever before, with $778 million to deliver the settlement program to newcomers outside of Quebec. IRCC funds over 500 organizations and provides services to over 460,000 clients, including assistance with learning a new language, finding a job and integrating into Canada.
Mr. Chair, immigration strengthens our country. It helps keep Canada globally competitive by promoting innovation and economic growth and by supporting diverse and inclusive communities. The actions I have noted today demonstrate our ongoing commitment as we continue to meet these goals.
The actions that I've noted today demonstrate our ongoing commitment to achieving these goals.
You mentioned technology. I think that's a good segue into my next question.
In your testimony, you talked about the global skills program and how important that was. I want to also mention the rural pilot program, the Atlantic pilot program and the expansion of the current provincial nominee program, but specifically the global skills strategy and how all of these programs coming in together all at once are really benefiting our economy, benefiting Canada and bringing global talent from abroad.
What I want to end with here is that we have a start-up company in Kitchener that just published having a newcomer come in.... It was a sponsorship group, Talent Beyond Boundaries, that sponsored this young individual. He was able to work in a high-tech company. This was not through the global skills program, but through a sponsorship program that we've quadrupled, I believe, over the years.
How has that been a net benefit to Canada and a net benefit to employers here?
One of the main reasons for the increase in immigration levels in every year of our government has been to listen to the concerns of business. Businesses have told us very clearly—small, medium and large enterprises across the country, not just in urban areas but in rural Canada—that they are facing a lot of pressure from not having workers to fill unfilled jobs. This impacts their ability to grow. In the process of growth, they also are able to create jobs for Canadians, especially when you're talking about skilled workers who are coming in to actually address particular skill shortages and who, when they're able to come through our immigration system, are able to unlock dozens and hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs for Canadians.
The second question is, investment follows talent. When particular investments are made in Canada, one of the main reasons and one of the key things they look at, the major investors, is the ability to be able to (a) find the talent in Canada and (b) bring in talent as needed in their growth trajectory.
A global skills strategy is certainly helping in that process. Bringing down the processing time from seven months to two weeks is really revolutionary when you think about it, and many employers have benefited from it. In addition to that, the express entry system allows Canada to continue to be a global leader in being able to use our immigration system to bring the best and the brightest from around the world.
In many industries across Canada, there is tremendous growth. They are taking up as much as is possible the local talent that is being produced in Canada through our wonderful educational institutions, but it's not enough, so the delta is being filled by foreign workers, who are coming in through various immigration streams to continue to power our economy and create jobs in the process.
I've seen this first-hand—
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
First of all I want to thank you, Minister, and the department officials for being flexible in meeting with us under the craziness that's going on in the House. I thank you for that.
I have a question, Minister, and it involves my riding. It involves parental sponsorship applications under the old system. There's a family living in my riding who have waited 12 years for the processing of a parental sponsorship application, which was initiated in July 2007. I appreciate you will have no knowledge of this, but we will give some papers to your officials and hopefully you could comment generally on this.
The department continues to promote family reunification, yet here we have a family in my riding that has continued to languish in the New Delhi visa office since May 2009. Seemingly, the department cannot figure out how to update the details all because the file has the misfortune of being initiated under the original system. I'm not going to reveal the names for privacy reasons, but I'll have my assistant give somebody up there a copy with more details. He's doing that now.
Notwithstanding that this is something that you're not aware of, I would like it if you could comment generally on how this is happening—a 12-year wait?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to the minister and the officials.
I believe this will be the last opportunity for the committee to engage with them in this way before the election. I have a number of issues that I want to raise.
First, I brought to the minister's attention personally a number of cases regarding the TFWs and what I think is exploitation and abuse of the situation. These women are desperate to get their open work permits. As the month comes to an end they have to pay yet another round of rent, for which they have made no money and they have actually expended quite a lot of money to get here.
I understand that we can't get into all the details of it, but I ask if the minister can commit to having his staff engage with my staff, so that we can see—I hope—open work permits expedited for these workers. I know that the minister has staff looking at the files along with CBSA, public safety and 's ministry.
I ask this because the women are just so anxious and desperate. Can I have that commitment, please?
That would be fantastic.
I won't go into the details of the case of these women, but one of the urgent situations that they require is the ability to work. When the month of May ends, they will have to pay rent again and they have not made any money for the entire time they have been here. They've had to go into debt to pay to get here, which they shouldn't have, but they had to for all the reasons that have been highlighted for you, Minister, in the letter.
My office is happy to work with you to get this going. I really hope that before the month ends the open work permit question could be answered. Otherwise these women are really going to be stuck.
I'll leave that and move on to another area.
On the issue around caregivers, the government has announced two new pilot projects. The officials were around this table last time. They weren't able to answer my questions, so I'm going to put the questions to you, Minister.
For how long will the open work permits for the spouses and dependants of the caregivers be valid? Would the dependants of the caregiver—children, if you will—who go to post-secondary education or who need the education system have to pay international fees? What is the policy with respect to their access to medical coverage?
On another issue related to medical exams, will they have to do multiple medical exams or could they do only one when they first get approved to come to Canada and that would suffice?
Yes. For the first time we are introducing new administrative monetary penalties to go after unauthorized consultants. We are doubling the maximum criminal fines that are available to law enforcement to go after unauthorized consultants.
In addition to that, budget 2019 provides more resources for CBSA to conduct much-needed investigations and enforcement against some of the most complex cases that target people.
Also, very important steps are being taken to revamp the oversight mechanism. There will be the establishment of the college of immigration and citizenship consultants. That will result in a much newer landscape that involves a public interest board of directors sitting on the board, a majority, and a new code of conduct developed by the Minister of Immigration.
In addition to that, the new college will have the power to enter into premises of immigration consultants where they suspect wrongdoing is occurring. In addition to that, they can compel members of the college to come and provide testimony to answer on complaints. There will be a compensation fund for those who have been wrongfully taken advantage of by immigration consultants.
There will be a requirement for the new members of the college to have liability insurance, and there will be a much more robust training, disciplinary and complaints process.
It will help in many ways. I have seen personally, in my previous life as an immigration lawyer, cases where people would come at the tail end—after being out of pocket for thousands and thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars—and say, “This consultant didn't even file my application. They took money from me and they didn't even do what was supposed to be done.” Those days are over. Those folks will have access to a compensation fund.
The misinformation will be tackled head on. Some of the money that is allocated in budget 2019 will go toward more outreach officers in some of our key source countries for both permanent and temporary immigration, to proactively inform people about the proper way to apply and also which credible immigration consultants to use.
The new college will also have the power to go to court to get injunctions against unauthorized consultants, to prevent them from practising and preying on people.
Many, many times we see that people who are in violation of the immigration system are themselves victims of these unauthorized immigration consultants. We see international students who are taken advantage of, who are promised things that are simply not true. We see visitors and others, and they are not only disadvantaged by losing a lot of money; sometimes they are disadvantaged because their applications are not even filed.
These new measures will result in much stronger oversight, but also much stronger enforcement and investigations and an ability—when the worst happens, when these people are taken advantage of and lose a lot of money—for them to recoup some, if not all, of that money for the first time, by setting up a compensation fund that will help them out.
I'm going to go back to what I was saying before the interruption.
You were telling me that the Government of Canada has no timetable to complete these negotiations. However, all the numbers I've mentioned so far by the PBO, the $1.1 billion and up, by 2021; the AG's report with serious concerns.... The comments by the chair of the IRB this morning, reported in the National Post, paint a picture that unless you close this loophole, these costs will continue to go up in your department.
I understand that you perhaps can't give me a fixed timeline as to when the Americans would like to have it completed.
I'm asking you, when would the Government of Canada like to have this loophole closed in the safe third country agreement? Is there a year? Is it after the election or before the election?
Thanks a lot, Minister. Thanks to all the officials also for joining us in the committee today.
Minister, among the many mean-spirited cuts in the last Ontario budget by the Doug Ford government, one of them was to eliminate the legal aid funding for refugees and immigration law services. The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers warns that these abrupt changes will have dire consequences for many.
For many of us, it was reminiscent of the Harper government's decision to slash health care coverage for refugee and asylum claimants.
Could you please assure us that, with the funding provided to the department in the main estimates, our government will continue to protect the rights of vulnerable immigrants and refugees?
The commitment that we have as a government to provide due process to those who are seeking protection is very important. It's a priority that we have. It's very unfortunate to see that the Ontario government has cut legal aid funding for immigrants and refugees. Historically, Ontario's contribution has covered approximately 65% of the province's immigration and refugee legal aid expenditures, so these are cuts that will have significant consequences.
Of course, in budget 2019, we are investing almost $50 million over three years for immigrant and refugee legal aid. I am concerned about cuts that target people who are fleeing persecution and who would like to pursue an asylum claim in order to get Canada's protection. We must do what we can to make sure that these individuals have due process, and Ontario's cut to refugee and immigrant legal aid is a step in the wrong direction. It will hurt the most vulnerable.
I'm disappointed, but I'm not quite surprised. We have seen the track record of Conservatives, in all levels of government, targeting cuts precisely against community services that serve the most vulnerable in our society. The previous federal Conservatives, when they were in office, cut refugee health care, a practice that was deemed by the courts to be cruel and unusual treatment. This is in the same line, and it's really unfortunate that it has happened.
That's a very important question because we have a duty to each and every newcomer to Canada, not just refugees, but across all different streams of immigration. For those we invite to join our Canadian family, we have an equal obligation, at least to the extent that we can, to equip them with the tools they need to succeed in Canada.
That is not only the right thing to do and the humane thing to do; it is also the smart thing to do because the sooner they can succeed, the better it is for Canada, so funding for settlement and integration is key. It is why we're investing $777 million to fund settlement and integration in 2019-20. That's a 1% increase over last year's numbers.
We have funded over 500 organizations across Canada to provide language training, help find jobs and offer orientation to newcomers. Preliminary data shows that 485,000 clients received these services last year, already surpassing the previous year's total.
One of the advancements that needs to be made in the settlement sector that we are pursuing is to make sure, since not every newcomer has the same needs, that there is tailoring of different settlement services for different kinds of immigrants to ensure maximum impact and success.
You're very kind, Mr. Chairman. I guess that means I have to be nice to the minister. I'll try to be.
I have a question with respect to the visa issue of Mexico, and I realize there's a gray area between the three ministers, but you are in charge of visas. The media is reporting that there may be hundreds of Mexican nationals in Canada with ties to drug cartels, particularly in Quebec. I appreciate that the challenged that, but there is no question, whether the media has the right figure or Minister Goodale has, that they're here.
This is the result of the government's visa lift in 2006, which I believe the minister's own officials recommended against. The result of that is we've been flooded with, really, thugs and criminals. My question for you as the Minister of Immigration is: what do you intend to do about this alarming situation, other than to pass it on to the Minister of Public Safety?
Thank you, Minister Hussen.
l have only about three minutes left.
I'd like to move away from the subject of refugees and asylum claimants.
I'm now the only one who can ask questions and who comes from Atlantic Canada, since the chair can't participate in the discussions.
As a member of Parliament, I attended the launch of the pilot project on immigration in the Atlantic provinces three years ago. It's no longer a pilot project. It's almost a successful project.
Three years later, can we measure the impact of the pilot project in Atlantic Canada?
Thank you, Mr. Arseneault.
The Atlantic immigration program pilot project has been so successful that we've extended it by a further two years. It's now a five-year pilot program. Part of the reason for that success has been the great work that we've been able to accomplish with employers and provincial governments in that part of Canada.
It's a program that has really set the standard in terms of working towards retention of immigrants and not just their attraction to Atlantic Canada. It's the first employer-driven immigration program in Canadian history. The lessons we've learned from the Atlantic immigration program have been used to craft the rural and northern immigration pilot program.
It has had a huge impact. In my numerous engagements with employers and provincial officials in Atlantic Canada, I have seen how the Atlantic immigration pilot program has done exactly what it is meant to do, which is to address the unique demographic, labour market and skills challenges in Atlantic Canada, but also the retention piece, in making sure that the employers attract not just the skilled worker but also their family and put together a settlement plan to ensure retention. The retention rates are climbing. The population increase is a testament to the fact that the Atlantic immigration program has been a very big success.
In fact, as recently as two days ago, I met with one of the major employers from Atlantic Canada. They want us to double that program because it's been so good for them in terms of growth, filling unfilled jobs and bringing much needed skills to Atlantic Canada.
That comes to the end of the testimony from the minister. I'd like to thank you and your officials for making yourselves available, especially in light of the very difficult voting and other interruptions.
We will now move to committee business in adopting the estimates, or not, with some routine motions.
Under the main estimates 2019-20, we have votes 1, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 and 35 under Department of Citizenship and Immigration, and votes 1 and 5 under Immigration and Refugee Board.
DEPARTMENT OF CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION
Vote 1—Operating expenditures.........$797,460,552
Vote 5—Capital expenditures.........$22,242,541
Vote 10—Grants and contributions.........$1,775,345,121
Vote 15—Enhancing the Integrity of Canada's Borders and Asylum System.........$160,430,000
Vote 20—Improving Immigration Client Service.........$18,000,000
Vote 25—Helping Travellers Visit Canada.........$24,384,000
Vote 30—Protecting People from Unscrupulous Immigration Consultants.........$11,250,000
Vote 35—Providing Health Care to Refugees and Asylum Seekers.........$125,120,000
(Votes 1, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 and 35 agreed to on division)
IMMIGRATION AND REFUGEE BOARD
Vote 1—Program expenditures.........$148,584,137
Vote 5—Enhancing the Integrity of Canada's Borders and Asylum System.........$56,850,000
(Votes 1 and 5 agreed to on division)
The Chair: Shall I report the main estimates 2019-20 to the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Some hon. members: On division.
The Chair: Thank you, all, for your co-operation today, especially unanimous consent to allow these meetings to proceed and end on time.
The meeting is adjourned.